February Update: From Backyard Sugarer to Commercial Syrup Production

Snow!! Since the December 18 snow that left 20 inches in Ashe County, the ground has been exposed only three days! A very wet fall and a couple of months of snow have put the brakes on everything at this mountainside farm. Basic annual rituals of planting and harvesting have been stalled. The ground is saturated. An occasional break in the snow reveals either ice or muck. The resulting stress is extra potent in the highlands...in those areas where folks use firewood on a daily basis and rely upon the bounty of their land to produce income.

Slow but steady: Doug's plans for a maple syrup farm are moving forth, slowly. He received a response to his early-bird Tobacco Community Reinvestment Fund grant application (sent in early December) from Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). They have requested some minor corrections and clarifications. They want to know Doug's plan for getting word out to local farmers about his project. He hopes to get fairly good coverage in a local newspaper and an Agricultural Extension Agent will host a workday to share the details of the project with local farmers. In this way, farmers will get an introduction to this untapped resource and its potential to be a sustainable farming practice. They also wanted to know how much net profit is expected from this operation. The final word on whether Doug is successful in securing the grant will come on March 9, 2010. Right now things look positive.
Some small scale tree tapping and syrup production will take place again this year....with a few changes. Doug has proceeded to order new taps and tubing. The new taps will be 5/16", compared to last year's 9/16", in order to fit the tubing. He expects the taps and tubes to arrive any day now. In fact, the UPS may have attempted delivery already. Doug saw the truck turn around after trying to get up his driveway. Along with these larger items, Doug has been acquiring smaller things gradually, like a wire spooler (which will carry 1/2 mile of 12.5 gauge wire....the spooler prevents kinks) and a cordless drill for tapping trees.

Pouring sap into the cooking pan, February 2009

It is time to harvest sap: For this year's harvest, tapping will begin this week. With the new taps and tubing, the lines will run directly to buckets, and the buckets will be covered with a lid. This will be an air-tight system, which should increase efficiency substantially. Another benefit of the closed system is that the taps won't dry out during windy conditions. Doug plans to tap only 25 trees this year (we witnessed 40 taps last year...some in very hard-to-reach places) and expects a greater output because of the new system. For this year's small harvest, Doug will again rely upon an exterior fireplace and boiling pan. Some preparation work will be needed in the coming week to repair this setup...the weather has wreaked havoc on things. Yesterday Doug plowed snow and ice from the site and he anticipates needing some gravel to level things.The full upgrade to his system won't begin until the fall. This includes full installation of tubes, placement of a collection tank and the construction of a sugar house.

The outdoor fireplace and processing pan, February 2009

This summer sugar house preparation will begin. The foundation will be installed and trees from the property will be milled. Doug hopes to construct the Sugar House during the week of September 20th-24th. He is looking for volunteers, and has some commitments already (Wheeler, Louis, Steve). If enough people show up, he plans to install the extensive network of tubing planned for next year's production.

Links to other updates:
Introduction, 2009
November, 2009
December, 2009

March, 2010

Summer Update, 2010